Chinese Travel Visa – Do you really need one?

China is a popular transit hub with excellent transport links across the globe. This can be a great opportunity to take in some of China's sights, if you're able to make use of their excellent transit visa system. It can be complicated however, as each airport and region has it's own rules on length of stay and which nationalities can apply. If you're unsure, read on to find out if you really need to apply for that full visa before you leave.

What We’ll Cover

  • The types of transit visa available

  • Which nationalities can obtain a transit visa on arrival

  • Where you get apply for one and how long they last

  • What to do if you don’t quality for the transit visa scheme

24-Hour Visa Free Transit

This transit visa allows passengers arriving in China by air, train and ship to transit in mainland China for a stay of no more than 24 hours, before heading for a third destination. Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan in this case are acceptable as onward travel, but you can not for example travel from the UK, to China, and back to the UK.

Nationals of most countries are eligible for this transit visa, however there are some exceptions. If you are intending to transit in any of the following airports, this will not be available to any nationality:

  • Fuzhou Changle Airport
  • Huangshan Tunxi Aiport
  • Mudanjiang Hailang Aiport
  • Yanji Chaoyangchuan Aiport

Urumqi Diwopu International Aiport allows most travellers to enjoy visa-free transit for a maximum of 2 hours, but with no allowance to leave the airport. There are some exceptions dependant on your nationality, so it’s best to check in plenty of time before your intended date of departure.

You must be able to provide proof of your onward travel, a visa for that destination if required, and we recommend having at least 6 months validity on your visa.

great wall transit visa china

72-Hour Visa Free Transit

This transit policy allows air passengers from 53 countries to transit and stay for up to 72 hours (3 days) in 6 Chinese cities without the need for a pre-travel visa.

If you are a passport holder of one of the qualifying countries listed below, you can make use of this policy:

Schengen Agreement CountriesOther European CountriesAmerican Countries Asian CountriesOceania Countries
AustriaRussiaUnited StatesSouth KoreaAustralia
BelgiumUnited KingdomCanadaJapanNew Zealand
Czech RepublicIrelandBrazilSingapore 
EstoniaBulgariaArgentinaUnited Arab Emirates 

There are many cities that you can visit while using this 72 hour transit policy. They do all have some restrictions though. For example, you cannot enter Shanghai and travel to Beijing from there. The third destination rule applies to this visa type, so you must be able to prove onward travel. Please see below for the cities you can visit and their restrictions:

  • Chongqing-You cannot leave the transit city
  • Harbin-You cannot leave the transit city
  • Xi’an-You can travel in Xi’an and Xianyang
  • Guilin-You cannot leave the transit city
  • Changsha-You can travel around the whole province
  • Guangzhou– You can travel around the whole province
transit visa china

144-Hour Visa Free Transit

This transit policy allows air passengers from the same 53 countries to transit and stay for up to 144 hours (6 days) in 14 China cities without the need for a visa. The destination which provide this visa, and their individual restrictions, are listed below:

  • Beijing-Can move around Beijing, Tianjin and Hebel.
  • Tianjin– Can move around Beijing, Tianjin and Hebel.
  • Shanghai-Can move around Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu
  • Shenyang-Can travel in the whole of the Liaoning Province.
  • Dalian-Can travel in the whole of the Liaoning Province.
  • Nanjing-Can move around Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu
  • Hangzhou-Can move around Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu
  • Shijiazhuang-Can move around Beijing, Tianjin and Hebel.
  • Qinhuangdao-Can move around Beijing, Tianjin and Hebel.
  • Chengdu-Cannot leave the transit city.
  • Wuhan-Cannot leave the transit city.
  • Xiamen-Cannot leave the transit city.
  • Qingdao-Can move freely within the whole Shandong Province.
  • Kunming-Cannot leave the transit city.
  • Xi’an – from 1st December 2019
  • Ningbo – from 1st December 2019
  • Chengdu – from 1st December 2019
  • Chongqing – from 1st December 2019

What if I don’t fit into any of these categories?

If you wish to stay in China for a longer period, are not travelling to a third destination or wish to travel outside of the province or city you arrive at, you will require a full visa. There are certain nationalities which require a full visa just to transit in certain airports, so it’s always best to check your individual requirements with us as soon as possible.

key takeaways

Key Takeaways

There are several options you can choose from when transiting through China, but it’s important to understand the guidelines and restrictions before you leave the airport. Straying out of the designated zone or overstaying your visa could result in a fine or even a travel ban for up to 2 years if you are caught. As long as you are aware of the guidelines, a transit visa can be a great way of making the most of your stop-off, with plenty to see and do in this rich and diverse country!

Ashraf Vachhiat
Ashraf Vachhiat

Ashraf is the Marketing Technologist at Vital Consular, which means he handles all the technicalities involved in bringing this blog to life! He also enjoys creating in-depth articles around current affairs which impact the travel and relocation industry. In his free time, Ashraf relishes travelling as much as possible, and is always looking for quirky spots to take some great photos.

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